Before I even started reading, this four-book fairy-tale series intrigued me because the books will be written by four different authors, the story following one family (and the curse that plagues it) over several generations. Awesome, right? The first book in the Mirror series, Broken Wish by Julie C. Dao, delivers. Let me tell you a bit about sixteen-year-old Elva and her powers.
Set in 1865 Hanau, Germany, Elva has been taught to hide her magical abilities so her family is not cast out. That works—for a while. However, once Elva and her adorable brother, Cay, stumble upon their mother’s secrets, Elva seeks the Witch of the North Woods. She hopes to find answers, yet is scared the witch is the villain she’s proclaimed to be on the warning signs Elva’s village has nailed to trees.
I like how the book opens in a series of notes between Elva’s mother and the witch, introducing the complexities of characters; no one is all good or all bad. Elva’s mom’s prior connection with the Witch of the North Woods puts Elva and her family on a cursed path. Elva believes her community should be given a chance to understand the truth, but differences are feared and removed rather than accepted. This clever, multilayered storyline satisfied, yet left me wanting to follow the family to see what more will unfold from a simple, lonely wish shattered in the name of love.
The next three books will be written by Dhonielle Clayton, Jennifer Cervantes, and L. L. McKinney—all amazing female authors whose stories I’ve enjoyed over the years. I’m in for books two, three, and four
A 2020 National Book Awards Longlist Selection A Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2020 A Reading Group Choices Best Book of 2020 A Mighty Girl Best Book of 2020 ★Starred Review – Kirkus
Marcella Pixley’s middle-grade book, Trowbridge Road, opens with Jenny Karlo’s loud, beat-up car disturbing a sleepy Boston suburb. Jenny’s music and personality add to the unrest as she deposits her son, Ziggy, at Nana’s for an indeterminate stay. June Bug Jordan, the unofficial neighborhood watcher, takes this in from a safe distance. It’s 1983 and June Bug’s world has recently been shattered by AIDS.
Outcasts of sorts, June Bug and Ziggy (and Matthew, the ferret, who’s often perched atop Ziggy’s unruly red hair) meld into a comfortable friendship where their imaginations transport them from everyday troubles. Matthew’s antics add levity as the truths for both kids begin to unfold. While Ziggy’s grandmother and June Bug’s uncle are steady and trustworthy, other adults struggle with mental illness and domestic violence making them incompetent caregivers who provide love alongside complicated pain.
Pixley does an amazing job bringing such difficult topics to a middle-grade audience. Problems are laid out from a child’s viewpoint and not explained away—simple answers don’t exist. Filled with complex characters, Trowbridge Road delivers an emotional journey, proving hope exists even on the darkest days. My favorite scenes include ones where the kids lose themselves in larger-than-life, fantastic journeys. The escapism offers them moments of freedom to work through personal traumas.
This beautifully written book is one I recommend to friends. There’s so much here, you’ll want to read it again. I congratulate Pixley on her craft which brings to life endearingly flawed characters during an important historical time.
★Starred Reviews – Book Page, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
Eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, are “summer people” at Belle Beach, Long Island, taking a break from the city with their writer dad. The book opens with the girls finding a baby left on the steps of the library and the story spins backward from there. Told from three viewpoints (the sisters’, plus that of their neighbor, twelve-year-old, Bruno Ben-Ali), the reader pieces together what happened to cause a myriad of events, including the breakup of Julie and Bruno’s friendship. World War II concerns are deftly incorporated, such as Bruno’s brother being drafted and the increasing number of funeral services for overseas casualties; a nearby army hospital also factors in.
In The Summer We Found the Baby, Amy Hest, weaves together a fast-paced plot with levity, where stories at times overlap as we discover what each character discloses or conceals. Historical details take a backseat to friendship concerns, sibling squabbling, and familial issues. Seeing the happenings from three perspectives works well to uncover the kids’ fears and losses. This likable tale captures a few scenes in a summer where lives come together and move apart, and how, sometimes, specific moments bring about change. And, yes, we eventually unwind the mystery behind the abandoned baby.
In the nineteenth century, grave robbers supplied medical schools with corpses. While this does happen in Magic Dark and Strange, Catherine Daly leaves home to take a respectable job at the city’s newspaper, knowing her family needs the income. Though at night, she earns a bit more digging up graves to briefly enliven the dead so they can spend a while longer with their loved ones. In exchange, for each hour granted, she loses an hour of her life. On a special expedition to collect a unique timepiece, she somehow brings a teen boy fully to life. Since he has no memory, they question who he is, why he died, and what resurrected him. Somewhat reluctantly Guy Nolan, the watchmaker’s son, houses the boy he names Owen and sets about seeking answers with Catherine. While a budding attraction develops between Catherine and Guy, their encounters focus more on mystery-solving than romantic interludes.
I knew I’d like this book from its first line: “Waking the dead wasn’t nearly so unpleasant as having to dig them up in the first place.” This sums up Catherine well: that she perform small magic is a given, but it’s hard work and she must avoid being caught by a watchman. The story’s turns will keep you guessing at Owen’s true identity, especially once the murders begin. Readers who appreciate historical details blended with fantasy will find this a fascinating read. I was unsure until the end whether Owen was innocent or hiding his dark past. See if your sleuthing can figure it out before it’s revealed.
★Starred Reviews –Kirkus, School Library Connection
The Titanic sinks; I’ve heard many of the stories, but Stacey Lee’s YA novel, Luck of the Titanic, illuminates the unjust treatment of the few Chinese aboard that dreaded voyage. In reality, six of the eight Chinese passengers survived (whereas only 25% of the other passengers survived), yet, rare mentions “vilified them as cowards who took seats from women and children or dressed as women in order to sneak aboard lifeboats, all of which were unfounded rumors.” The US’s Chinese Exclusion Act in place in 1912 ensured that all of these men—who likely did not speak English—were shipped off within twenty-four hours of arrival, their stories lost.
From these facts, Lee weaves a tale about brother and sister acrobats, the Luck twins. Val makes an action-packed, stowaway entrance to join her brother, Jamie. Her haphazard plan involves finding and impressing the influential circus owner, thus gaining access to America. Yet, Jamie has given up such sensational aspirations. Strong-willed Val tries to right him to her course but, along the convoluted, shenanigan-filled way, discovers much about herself, family, and the meaning of true love.
This seven-day voyage sails by quickly. Val is an interesting character who quickly won me over with her endearingly persistent flaws. Knowing about the fateful iceberg didn’t make the plot any less suspenseful. Instead, the concluding chapters are nail-biters, through the unpredictable ending.
Lee’s book begins a much-needed conversation that will, hopefully, result in finding information about the actual Chinese survivors so their stories can be added to the history books. I appreciate the care with which she writes historical fiction and, previously, enjoyed her 2019 YA, The Downstairs Girl, set in 1890 Atlanta, which also tackles issues of inequality shown from a strong, female lead character’s perspective.
[ATTENTION WRITERS: Catch her Sat. April 10, in “Hitch Up Your Petticoats: Stacey Lee Reveals How to Write Historical Fiction.” Registration link here. Non-SCBWI members, email Natasha Yim at email@example.com.]
Kate Pentecost’s YA novel has the wonderfully ironic title, Elysium Girls. There’s nothing paradisal about Elysium, Oklahoma, during the 1930s Dust Bowl. One moment it’s a regular town, the next, the goddesses Life and Death use it to play a decade-long game: from next to nothing, the citizens must build a city and a society which is good and responsible, setting aside one-third of all crops as a Sacrifice. If the Elysiums do this, at the end of ten years, their society will continue; if not, everyone perishes. Dust Sickness soon begins to claim lives.
Seventeen-year-old Sal Wilkerson loses her mother and doesn’t fit in, overcome by unfulfilled predictions. As the game’s conclusion draws near, the town’s self-declared witchy leader, Mother Morevna, chooses Sal as the Successor. Finally, it seems Sal’s time has come, but an outsider named Asa arrives and unintentionally upsets things. For me, Asa stole the show as much for his charming personality as for the fact that, even though a nonhuman character, he’s so very relatable. Over the course of the book, his life changes dramatically as he deals with one unknown after another.
Outside the Elysium walls, a band of kick-butt girls survives fire coyotes and other wicked things by using their ingenuity. The different realities are fascinating: inside the walls, outside, above, and blips from the real Depression-era world. In addition, there are many appealing character elements including friendship, girl power, and family. Romance isn’t limited to boy and girl, or human and human. Put it all together and you’ll see why Elysium Girls is as hard to shake as a dusty Oklahoma day.
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★Starred Reviews – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly
The young adult novel Deeplight grabbed me when I read it described as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea meets Frankenstein. Frances Hardinge does not disappoint. Fifteen-year-old Hark lives in the island chain of Myriad on Lady’s Crave where the Hidden Lady was once their god, before the gods inexplicably killed each other off. Hark and his friend Jelt—both unwanted children their destinies seemingly “cojoined against their wills”—get by together on the rough streets. Jelt leads Hark to increasingly perilous transgressions until Hark is caught and given a three-year sentence of servitude. The woman who buys him at auction brings him to the island of Sanctuary where he’s assigned various chores but is also asked to spy on the aging priests, seeking their secrets about the gods. Hark finally has the chance to think about who he is and what he wants out of life. However, he’s once again a pawn but this time the stakes include everything.
Frances Hardinge’s beautifully written story will sweep you away in this coming-of-age fantasy adventure to remember. It was refreshing to read a book that felt new in many ways, illuminating light into areas of what could have seemed like familiar tales. Instead, Hardinge kept me guessing with the story’s twists. While the thrills were fun, I appreciated the undercurrent, reminding us that we all carry stories and that when someone dies, a world of knowledge dies along with them. To understand and remember the past, we must recall and retell it and we must listen to the stories that lie inside of others.
Click here to order a copy of Deeplight or visit your local indie bookstore. e Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
The Curseshas an undoubtedly awesome first line: “Wolf had been back from the dead for almost three weeks when we had our first midnight picnic of the year.” Best-selling author Laure Eve’s second book picks up smoothly from where The Graces left off, changing the narrator from River (the new girl in town with enigmatic magical powers) to Summer (her on-again-off-again BFF from the Grace family of witches).
This sequel expands the world of the Graces while keeping favorite characters close. The Graces are beautiful, rich, and alluring—and they have cool names. Complicated relationships advance between the people who love the Graces, hate them, or want to be them. High school drama is heightened as the teens try to master their supernatural powers.
Truth-seeker and air witch Summer questions the dreaded curse on the Grace family (they cannot marry for love). After some sleuthing, dangerous mysteries unfold and Summer struggles with how she’s inexplicably drawn to River, wondering whether to stay away or bring her into their coven.
The main story line revolves around Wolf and the problems accompanying his resurrection. Throughout, the characters grow and learn to navigate the complicated aspects of friendship, family, and love. Appearances can be deceptive and easy answers may not be the right ones but there’s surely magic in the world, if you’re open to it.
GLASS SWORD Red Queen; Volume number 2 by Victoria Aveyard (HarperTeen; $19.99, Ages 14 and up)
Glass Swordby Victoria Aveyardis the next installment of her riveting series Red Queen. The story picks up right where we left off in the previous book. Mare and Cal are now fugitives, having fought their way out of their own executions. Maven, now king after using his mother’s power to force Cal to kill his own father, is in pursuit of Mare and Cal aided by his entire army and a society of Silvers, who have been manipulated to believe in his lies. Mare realizes that the only way to win this fight is to find others like her, those they call “new bloods.”
Aveyard brings in a little bit of an X-Men feel as the “new bloods” are slowly found. They are Reds with Silver abilities but are stronger than the Silvers themselves. They learn how to control and use their powers while preparing for war against Maven. However, Mare is constantly torn between her need to save others, her own self-doubt, and the betrayal that surrounds her. Two things are always constant in this book, lives are always at stake and you never know whom to trust. As Julian, Mare’s former teacher and Cal’s uncle, said repeatedly in Mare’s lessons, “Anyone can betray anyone,” and this mantra remains true as the story progresses.
Mare is searching for the new bloods, but Maven is too, so every venture out to find them is a risk of her life and that of her team. Maven sets trap after trap in order to catch the new bloods and, more importantly, to try and catch Mare. Throughout the novel, the relationship between Mare and Cal is ever intriguing, but it’s not clear what their future holds. This book is hardly predictable, but the one entirely foreseeable element is betrayal, right up until the end. It will be tough to wait an entire year to see what happens next, but I will be on the edge of my seat, eagerly awaiting the next book and what is sure to be an exciting conclusion.
In yet another riveting tale that falls somewhere in-between the Dystopian and Fantasy genres, we see The Hunger Games, The Selection, and Divergent collectively mirrored in Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen, particularly in the unbalanced caste system, a displaced protagonist, an alluring romance, widespread uprising, and unbridled betrayal.
Mare Barrow is a young girl working to survive in a society with two castes, the silver-blooded elite and the red bloods who serve them. The Silvers are the upper echelons of society with superhuman powers, but perhaps the most important ability they have is to keep the Reds in their place. Mare gets mistakenly drawn into the walls of palace life where she discovers that she, too, has powers of her own. What she really wants, however, is the power to take down the Royals who keep her family and the rest of the Reds nearly starving and struggling to survive. While one of the most difficult things to endure is leaving her family and worrying about their safety, Mare finds that what’s even harder is discovering who she is and whom she can trust.
While some parts were a bit predictable, others had surprising little twists that kept me quickly turning pages to see what would happen next. I found myself rooting for Mare Barrow and the Reds, and I’m looking forward to Aveyard’s next installment of this colorful saga.
In this stunning sequel to Hartman’s first book, Seraphina, the author revisits the kingdom of Goredd. In the previous book the court musician, Seraphina, had to come to terms with the stigma surrounding her half dragon, half human ancestry. This book begins with Seraphina’s search for others of her kind, called the ityasaari. Seraphina hopes that gathering all the ityasaari together will help to protect the kingdom from the ongoing dragon-against-dragon wars. To find the other ityasaari, Seraphina must journey through many different kingdoms. However, with every ityasaari found, she comes closer to being controlled by one of her own. Jannoula, a powerful and highly manipulative half dragon, tries again and again to gain control of the minds of all the ityassari. It will take all that Seraphina has learned from her dragon uncle, Orma, and everything that she will learn along the way, to defeat Jannoula. Along the journey Seraphina encounters defeat, loss and hardship. Perhaps the greatest thing Seraphina learns is that set backs seldom mean defeat and that help can arise from the most unlikely places.
Hartman’s world is fascinating, complex and detailed. Spanning four kingdoms, each with its own unique customs, food, and sometimes even religion, Seraphina’s journey is a sprawling quest. Readers of the first book will remember her love interest with Prince Kiggs, which only grows more complex in this second installment. Seraphina’s dragon uncle and mentor, Orma, is mysteriously missing which also adds to the necessity of Seraphina’s search. With this parting of the guide, Seraphina must learn to navigate the world as an adult. Hartman examines the origin and function of religion in society to work for good or for evil closely in this sequel, which makes for a fascinating read. Shadow Scale is a tribute to the power of a talented author to create a fully realized fantasy world full of danger, tradition, sacrifice and love.
Seraphina ($17.99, Random House Books for Young Readers, ages 12 and up), by Rachel Hartman, winner of the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel, is reviewed by Grace Duryée.
Tensions are high in the kingdom of Goredd. The tenuous peace treaty between men and dragons threatens to snap just as Ardmagar Comonot, the leader of the dragon community, comes to Goredd to celebrate forty years of uninterrupted peace between dragon and mankind. The royal family struggles to keep the conflict at bay for just a little longer, while trouble bubbles up from beneath them anyway. Huge resistance groups form, riots break out, and worst of all, the brutal–and strangely draconian–murder of one of their own: the widely respected Prince Rufus leaves the family at a loss at the worst possible time. Amidst all of this excitement is Seraphina, the gifted music mistress of Goredd’s castle. Seraphina is tossed head first into this wild tangle of trouble, torn between what is right and what is safe, who she can trust and who she can love.
Rachel Hartman, the creator of this world and of the heroic woman Seraphina, skillfully lures her audience into this intoxicating tale of dragons that can fold themselves into humans, musicians that fall in love with princes, and secrets so dangerous they scarcely can even be thought about. Hartman has lovingly woven the details of the beautiful world she has created into the pages of this fantastically original novel, bringing her audience to truly care about the characters and their relationships with each other.
Seraphina being a musician is incredibly appropriate in that the story itself plays out exactly like an epic ballad played on her flute. It’s swirling melodies and booming crescendos make Seraphina a song that resonates for quite some time in the hearts of fantasy fans.
Fans of the Eragon series, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings – or anything dragon-related – will surely love this refreshing read. The intricate worlds of Goredd and Seraphina’s mind, along with the incredible lore, will surely leave all fantasy-loving young adult readers craving more of Hartman’s universe, and counting down the days to the release of the sequel to Seraphina, entitled Dracomachia, currently set for release in February of 2014.
Today’s guest reviewer, Grace Duryée, has been an avid reader since childhood, and values the experience reading provides for every person, particularly children and young adults. This is why Grace has recently taken an interest in children’s literature, and has attempted to combine it with her other long-time love: writing. Grace and her cousin Hilary have recently begun preparations for their very own children’s literature blog, and are both very excited to get it up and running! Grace is 20 years old, and in her spare time she plays too many video games and reads books about dragons. In her not-spare time, Grace is the manager of the teen and children’s department at a Barnes and Noble as well as a college student pursuing her degree in Economics and Business.